With varying schedules, it can be difficult, in many churches to calculate the number of people who attend at least semi-regularly. At the River this can be especially difficult, due to the number of students who attend. I spent some time this week trying to come up with an accurate number. After looking at everyone who attends about twice a month I came up with 120. This is not my normal opening illustration but, I want you to keep that in mind as we take a look at our passage for today.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Acts, chapter 2, this is where we are going to spend much of our time today, but before we get there I want to set things up with a bit of context.
So the first thing I want to do is pick things up where we left off last week. Last Sunday Nathan preached on The Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:18-20. Nathan spoke about the importance of recognizing the commission or command upon our lives to make disciples. We have a responsibility to not only make disciples right here in our own sphere of influence, but also around the world and he talked a little bit about what that looks like. After the service Nathan told me that there was one small part from the passage that he forgot that he wanted to go back and connect with. And I think it actually is fine, because that part really connects well with what we are talking about today.
So let me remind us of the verses we looked at last week in Matthew 28:18-20 “18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Nathan focused on the middle of this passage with the command to go and make disciples of all nations, and the baptizing and teaching aspect of that. That is the Great Commission. But what I want to point out is the two bookend statements.
Right before Jesus commissioned his followers to go and make disciples, He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Then right after the commission itself, Jesus ended with the word “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So when we take out the commission itself, and look at these outside statements we see that Jesus begins and ends with two things: His authority and His presence. He bookends the Great Commission with saying that He has all the authority in heaven and on earth and that He will be with us always. This means that He is the one who ultimately does the work, not us. It is His work. It is His plan. It is His authority both in Heaven and on earth and so when we go out to make disciples we do so under His authority and relying upon His power. And He promises to be with us every step of the way.
We need to recognize that we can’t do this without Him. We don’t have the power to change people’s lives. Only He does. We don’t have the ability to convict their hearts or to bring about spiritual awakening. But Jesus promises that He does have the power and He will be with us. And that is key for our understanding of the Great Commission.
With that in mind, let’s flip over to Acts chapter 1. The beginning of Acts 1 actually contains for us the last conversation that Jesus had with His followers right before heading up to Heaven. And here we see a similar kind of command as what we saw in the Great Commission. Take a look at verse 8, “8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In the Great Commission passage Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, here He is telling them that they will be His witnesses. When we focus on this passage we tend to focus on what it means to be Christ’s witnesses. But before they can be His witnesses, Jesus tells them that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Just like we talked about with the Great Commission, it is not going to be them doing the work, they can’t go and try and do this on their own. They need the Holy Spirit’s power. In Acts 2 we see what happened when the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples. Beginning in verse one, “1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
So I want us to picture this in our minds. All of them gathered together on the day of Pentecost. After this moment in Acts, the word Pentecost has come to be associate with the Holy Spirit, but the original word referred to the Jewish festival of weeks. We don’t know for sure who was all gathered there, but the author just tells us that they were all together in one place.
The first thing that happens is a great sound like a mighty rushing wind. Not wind itself, but the sound of wind. Then the sound of wind is followed by something referred to as tongues of fire. Some scholars see a connection between this event and the words of John the Baptist in Luke 3:16, where he speaks of one coming who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And that seems to fit because suddenly they are all filled with the Holy Spirit and they begin speaking in tongues.
As you could imagine this begins to draw a crowd. Look at what comes next in verses 5-8 “5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?’”
As we talked about earlier this was Pentecost and along with the Passover and the feast of tabernacles, Pentecost was consider one of the three primary festivals when Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate. Some scholars suggest about a million people might have made the trip to be there for Pentecost. All of these different travelers heard their own languages being spoken. Not just some language that they could understand, but literally they were hearing their own native dialect.
The author then goes on to give us more detail about where all these people were from, look at verse 9:13, “9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13 But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”
The image must have been amazing? All of these uneducated Jews are somehow sharing the mighty works of God in languages they do not actually know how to speak. They could not have done this by their own ability. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. Some of the people in the crowd had such trouble understanding what was going on that they actually thought the people must be drunk, but then Peter steps up and quiets the crowd. Look at what he says first in verses 14-15 “14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;’”
So first Peter clarifies that they are not drunk. He then connects this event to the words of the prophet Joel about God’s Spirit being poured out on people. Which is what just happened to them. Let me also point out that Peter here refers to the last days. We are living in the last days. The last days began when Christ came to earth the first time and will wrap up when He comes again to judge the living and the dead. So everything between Christ’s first coming and His second coming is life in the last days. Peter then goes on to preach to them about Jesus. We won’t look at his entire sermon. You can read it there if you would like. Peter is proclaiming the Gospel. He talks about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. He ties all of it together with references to Scripture. He tells of how Jesus now has been raised up and that they are all witnesses of that fact. Then he tells them that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God and that these people that they have heard speaking in their own native dialects have received the promised Holy Spirit and that is what is going on.
Peter ends his sermon in verse 36 followed by the response of the people, “36 ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 38 And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Peter shares the Gospel with the people and doesn’t hold back, telling them that this Jesus whom they crucified was the Messiah. He was the Savior and Lord that they were looking for. And then the author tells us that the people were cut to the heart. That phrase suggests intense pain and anguish. But thankfully that pain and anguish leads them to a good response, because they immediately ask Peter, what must we do? Peter replied “repent and be baptized”. The word “repent” literally means to turn. Repentance means turning from our sin and turning to God. Not just confessing our sins, but repenting of them. And then baptism would be the public declaration of their faith in Christ. Imagine what this must have looked like with 3,000 people making the decision to follow Christ and then going to be baptized.
It’s really an amazing story. And the story was just beginning. In the very next passage we find that new people were becoming followers of Christ every day. The book of Acts is filled with stories like this. The disciples went out into the entire world and shared the Gospel. And they were amazingly effective, not because they were amazing speakers, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
I want to go back to our bookend statements from the Great Commission and the Acts 1:8 verse that set the context for all that happened in Acts 2. What we see in Acts 2 is exactly what Jesus said would happen here in Acts 1:8. Throughout the book of Acts we don’t see the story of extraordinary men who accomplished extraordinary things, we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work among ordinary men to accomplish extraordinary things.
The Greek word for power that is used there in Acts 1:8 is the word, from which we get our word dynamite. It refers to miraculous power, the same kind of divine power that we see Jesus using in the Gospels. That is the kind of power Jesus was telling them was coming and that is exactly the kind of power we see exemplified in Acts 2 as they speak in languages they did not know and 3,000 people respond.
So I want to challenge us that the same Holy Spirit that resided in them after the day of Pentecost, also resides in us if we are followers of Christ. Which means that that same dynamite, divine power that we see playing out in the book of Acts through the lives of these disciples, is also available with the Holy Spirit living in us today. And we too are called to be witnesses. We too have been commissioned to make disciples of all nations like they were.
Let me close with this, at the beginning of the sermon I asked if everyone who comes at least somewhat sporadically to The River came on the same Sunday how many people would we have and we mentioned about 100-120. We don’t know for sure how many people were gathered in the room in Acts 2, but Acts 1:15 speaks of a gathering of about 120 believers and most scholars seem to suggest that this was probably that same group assembled for Pentecost.
Do we really believe that the same Holy Spirit living inside of these Acts 2 Christians, those 120 Acts 2 Christians, is living inside of us? If so, then is it out of the realm of possibility for God to use us to see 3,000 people come to know him? Of course not. My prayer for us today is that the same Holy Spirit that brought thousands of people to Christ through those 120 people will do the same with us.